This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

November-December 2009

Interview: B.C.’s “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery

Paul McLaughlinWebsite

Illustration by Dushan Milic.

Illustration by Dushan Milic.

Unrepentant on the eve of his extradition, B.C.’s Prince of Pot has one message: he’ll be back

Marc Emery, Vancouver’s famous marijuana activist, has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in the United States in a negotiated deal relating to his mail-order business that sold marijuana seeds throughout North America. We caught up with him a few weeks before he left for prison.

This: You’ve just finished a farewell tour. What do you think it accomplished?

Emery: The great thing is that it validated my connection with the people of this country. I went to 28 different cities and many of them small-town places like Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and Owen Sound, Ontario. I was most popular in small areas with RCMP jurisdictions because they’re used to being oppressed. I constantly pointed out that we have the largest per capita cannabis consumption in the world at 16 percent, or one in six. We are a cannabis-consuming nation.

This: What’s your current state of mind?

Emery: I feel great. I’ve been to jail often enough. I’ve been arrested 23 times for marijuana alone and civil disobedience. And I’ve been jailed 18 times, so I’ve got lots of experience with the criminal justice system. I know that to survive jail the biggest enemy is boredom. Fortunately I like to write. I wrote a lot and read a lot last time I was in jail, in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre. I got three months for passing one joint. I was the head janitor for the administration centre for the people working there. So scrubbing toilets and floors and walls was very therapeutic and allowed me a lot of quality thinking time. Typically I get involved in the prison routines. I organized the card tournaments on the weekend. And that’s what you have to do to make the time go by.

This: Do you have any idea of where you will serve your time?

Emery: No, but most Canadians end up in alien prisons throughout the United States. For example, there are nine Canadians in the penitentiary in California City but there are 1,000 Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and people who are illegals there. And, unfortunately for the Canadians, it’s somewhat frightening because a lot of the Mexicans are in gangs and they have gang battles inside the federal prisons. The Canadians are kind of outnumbered linguistically and otherwise, so it’s typically a very lonely time for Canadians in a jail. Because normally a person like me, whose most serious infraction is mailing out seeds, I would be put on a work camp and given the lowest possible security assignment. But because I’m an alien I’m not qualified to have that. So Canadians tend to have a much harsher environment than Americans in the U.S. federal penitentiary system.

This: Do you know for certain how much time you’ll end up spending in the U.S. system?

Emery: My five years that we agreed upon would end up being four years and three months before I got deported back to Canada. It used to be Canadians would get prison transfers between six months to a year, except the Conservative government is no longer taking back drug prisoners. Hopefully if the government changes and if there’s a Liberal government, the old system would become automatic again.

This: Have you spoken to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff?

Emery: I’ve spoken to his people and they assure me they’d get me back as soon as possible.

This: Do you have any fear about going to jail?

Emery: No. I’m going to be the most famous name in any prison anywhere in America. So if something bad happens to me, everybody will hear about it. I’m not going to get intimidated into not complaining if it’s crappy. I have minimal needs. I’m a vegetarian so I want decent food. Fresh vegetables and fresh fruit at the very least. And I don’t mind going on a hunger strike for food, and if they put me in isolation or force-feed me, people will know what happens to me day by day. I’ve got millions of supporters throughout North America and there’s no one else in the U.S. federal system that’s going to be able to say that. So if they punish or torture me, people will know what happens to me. And that will make the Bureau of Prisons sensitive, I presume, if they have any political smarts at all.

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